Perfect lessons, courtesy of Japan

28th April 2006 at 01:00

Fancy a little jugyoukenkyuu? Teachers trialling the scheme are keen to spread the word. Warwick Mansell reports

A Japanese approach to improving teaching, in which teachers work together to design better lessons for their pupils, is winning rave reviews in British schools.

Teachers say the "research lesson study" scheme, where staff spend months designing and testing out ways of improving their practice, could be the way forward for a profession tired of being told how to teach. Teachers plan lessons, jointly teach them - often under the gaze of a video camera - then analyse the impact they had on pupils before passing on the findings to colleagues.

The project aims to break down subject barriers, with secondary colleagues from different departments working together to design lessons. Primary and secondary teachers are also collaborating.

The scheme is based on the Japanese model of professional development.

Jugyoukenkyuu, or lesson study, involves professionals spending up to three years planning lessons, closely observing them, then writing up what they have learned. At the end, they may teach a "public research lesson" before an audience of colleagues from local schools. The studies are widely read by Japanese teachers, who write half of all research papers there.

Since 2003, the idea has been tested formally in 14 English schools, 11 secondary and three primary, in a project backed by England's National College for School Leadership. In one school, science teachers worked with colleagues in the music department to find out how best to use pupil mentoring to motivate their charges. In another, teachers found that primary pupils, asked to write about castles in a practice test paper, were much more motivated if the paper they had to write on was designed in the shape of a castle.

The scheme is meant to be non-threatening, with observation not used to appraise teachers. It focuses on the impact teaching has on pupils, rather than analysing the teaching itself. Each lesson study considers how three, six or nine pupils - typically of low, medium and high ability - respond.

Hilary Francis, county adviser for professional learning in Hampshire, said 200 of the county's schools were interested. She said: "Lesson study is fantastic. It's the level of detail that teachers can go into in analysing what works which is so powerful."

Corina Seal is an advanced skills maths teacher at Sweyne Park secondary school, in Rayleigh, Essex, where 20 teachers are now involved. It is now the most popular form of professional development with its staff. She said:

"It's a way of getting someone else in your classroom observing what is going on, without it being threatening."

Japanese lesson study has found favour in the United States in recent years. Professor David Burghes, head of the new National Centre for Excellent Maths Teaching, is also an enthusiast.

Hard evidence of its overall impact on pupil performance in the UK is hard to come by, although an international study of maths linked Japan's impressive results to its use. But the research is likely to be considered by England's national strategies for possible use in its intervention policies to improve schools' results.


More information from

How 'lesson study' works

* Decide on one to two colleagues to work with on a research question.

* Define a question for research.

* Choose three to six pupils to focus on in the research.

* Work out their "baseline": how good are they in the subject?

* Predict how you think they will react to the experiment.

* Carry out the research lessons.

* Analyse how pupils reacted.

* Build lessons learned into your future teaching.

Readers interested in taking part in the second phase of this research project should contact its leader, Pete Dudley, at


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